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The Language of Mathematics

Students struggle with converting verbal expressions into numerical expressions. This is particularly a problem in a time that focuses more on problem solving and critical thinking. For example, a student might easily be able to simplify this numerical expression:

-16 * (-15)

However, converting the verbal equivalent of this expression might be much more challenging:

Negative sixteen times negative fifteen.

The skill of converting verbal expressions into numerical or variable expressions is one that gets surprisingly little emphasis in today's math curricula. Part of this is the notion that converting words into numbers and expressions is a purely mechanical task that involves little higher-order thinking. But this is a fundamental error.

Math is a Language

We math people know that math is a language in more than just a symbolic way. It's a legtimate means of expression with its own syntax, very much like a natural language. A typical math expression includes the equivalent of a subject-verb-object construction.

If we agree that math is a language, then translating from a verbal expression to a mathematical expression is a type of linguistic translation, similar to translating English into Spanish. This isn't a trivial point. Translation is not a mechancial feat, as anyone who has used Google Translate will easily see. No, linguistic translation involves critical thinking, a facility with both languages, and an ability to seamlessly reconstruct an expression from one language to another.

With that in mind, we come to some new resources from Media4Math.

Becoming Proficient in Math

Media4Math has launched a new initiative to focus on the skill of translating verbal expressions into math expressions. We have published hundreds of resources (shown in the table below) that focus on translating verbal expressions into numerical expressions. This library of resources will continue to grow as we move on to variable expressions, equations, and other areas of math.

Becoming proficient at translating words into mathematical expressions is the building block for problem solving.

The reason that students struggle with so-called word problems is because they have a great deal of trouble translating natural languange into math. The best way to become proficient at this is to start with simple verbal expressions, gain experience and confidence there, and move on to more complex expressions. This is a skill. Students do not come to your classrooms having an intuitive grasp of this. This must be practiced and mastered. But once achieved, this will allow students to master much more complex math problems.

Free Lesson Plans

These free lesson plans can be used as is. These were created using our Slide Show Creator tool. Click on the links below to see the lessons. Simply copy the lesson URL and use each lesson as a classroom presentation or have your students use these as online instructional modules.

Digital Resources

The Free Lesson Plans shown above used a small number of a much larger library of digital resources on this topic. To see the complete the library of digital resources click on the link below. You'll see a number of tutorials, games, presentations, and worksheets.